How to Ask Questions in English

You need to be able to answer and ask questions in English in order to have productive and coherent conversations in English-speaking countries. This means that asking questions is one of the most important elements of English conversation.

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However, most English learners often learn how to answer questions first. Consequently, the correct question grammar may feel more complicated than statement grammar.

The reality is that you should not feel intimidated by English questions. There are rules that you will need to learn, but we will do our best to lay them out as simply and clearly as possible! So, let’s take a look at how to ask questions in English.

Prefer to watch this lesson on video? Here’s our full-length tutorial on how to ask questions in English:

How to Ask Questions in English

3 Important Types of Questions in English

There are a variety of question formats in the English language. That said, there are 3 important types that you will need to know in order to have natural English conversations: Yes/No Questions, Wh- Questions, and Tag Questions. These three categories will ensure that you can ask questions in a wide range of settings.

Yes/No Questions

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Yes/No Questions are among the easiest English questions to answer. For each of these questions, the answer will usually be either “yes” or “no.” In many cases, you can also answer a Yes/No Question with “I don’t know,” “maybe,” “possibly,” etc. Nonetheless, Yes/No Questions are always formatted so that the answer should be either “yes” or “no.”

Yes/No Questions are generally formatted like this:

Auxiliary or Modal Verb + Subject + Main Verb + Object or Additional Information?

  • Do you like pizza?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, I do. / No, I don’t.
  • Are you going to the movies?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, I am. / No, I’m not.
  • Can you open the door?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, I can. / No, I can’t.
  • Have you been to Paris?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, I have. / No, I haven’t.
  • Did you do your homework?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, I did. No, I didn’t.

However, Yes/No Questions can change when the main verb is some form of “to be.” For these questions, the format looks more like this:

To Be + Subject + Adjective?

  • Are you satisfied?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, I am. / No, I’m not.
  • Is everything okay?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, it is. / No, it isn’t.
  • Are they tired?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, they are. / No they aren’t.

Yes/No Questions in the negative are not as common, as they sound a little clunkier and can be answered in the same way. When put in the negative form, Yes/No Questions usually have a tone of skepticism or an assumption that the answer is already known. Here are a few examples:

  • Don’t you like horror movies?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, I do. / No, I don’t.
  • Haven’t you been here before?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, I have. / No, I haven’t.
  • Can’t he lift that chair by himself?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, he can. / No, he can’t.
  • Wouldn’t they prefer to go together?
    • Possible Answers: Yes, they would. / No, they wouldn’t.

Wh- Questions

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Wh- Questions are not quite as simple as Yes/No Questions, as they involve much more contextual variety. Most Wh- Questions could be answered in more than just two or three ways. However, every Wh- Question begins with one of the following words:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • Whose
  • Which
  • How

As you can see, all but one of these words begins with “Wh” (hence the name of the category). Now, let’s take a look at how you will usually format these questions:

Wh- Word + Auxiliary or Modal Verb + Subject + Main Verb + Object or Additional Information?

  • Who can you see over there?
    • Sample Answer: I can see two of my friends.
  • What are you eating right now?
    • Sample Answer: I’m eating a turkey sandwich.
  • When will he arrive at the station?
    • Sample Answer: He will arrive at noon.
  • Where have you been all this time?
    • Sample Answer: I’ve been at my parents’ house.
  • Why do they like English?
    • Sample Answer: They like English because it is fun to speak!
  • How would you like your eggs?
    • Sample Answer: I’d like my eggs scrambled.

For questions in which “what,” “who,” “which,” or “whose” is the subject, we do not separate the verb into two parts:

  • What is under the couch?
    • Sample Answer: There are two pennies and a ball of string under the couch.
  • Who wants apple pie?
    • Sample Answer: I want apple pie!
  • Which lamp broke?
    • Sample Answer: The red one broke.
  • Whose dog barked?
    • Sample Answer: Emily’s dog barked.

Negative Wh- Questions

While Yes/No Questions are not as common in the negative form, negative wh- questions are very useful in conversations. Thankfully, you won’t need to change the format very much:

Wh- Word + Negative Contraction of Auxiliary or Modal Verb + Subject + Main Verb + Object or Additional Information?

  • Who isn’t going to the party?
    • Sample Answer: Sarah isn’t going to the party.
  • What don’t you want to eat?
    • Sample Answer: I don’t want to eat pasta.
  • When won’t he be available?
    • Sample Answer: He won’t be available on Thursday.
  • Where haven’t you traveled?
    • Sample Answer: I haven’t traveled anywhere in South America.
  • Why isn’t he in school?
    • Sample Answer: He isn’t in school because he feels sick today.
  • How shouldn’t I react?
    • Sample Answer: You shouldn’t react with anger.

Tag Questions

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Finally, we have Tag Questions. These are questions that are usually added to the end of a statement to confirm the validity of the information. For example, if you are pretty certain that something is true, but you would like to confirm the information with someone else, you would ask a Tag Question. Here’s how Tag Questions are formatted:

Positive Statement + Negative Contraction of Auxiliary or Modal Verb + Subject Pronoun?

  • You should leave soon, shouldn’t you?
  • He does his own chores, doesn’t he?
  • We will be on time, won’t we?

As you can see, when the statement is positive, the tag is negative. However, if the statement is negative, the format changes accordingly:

Negative Statement + Positive Auxiliary or Modal Verb + Subject Pronoun?

  • They can’t swim, can they?
  • I don’t have enough time to take a break, do I?
  • There wasn’t enough food for everyone, was there?

When you have a statement without an auxiliary verb, you can simply use “to do” to form the Tag Question. In any case, the tense of the Tag Question should always match the tense of the statement. Here are a few examples:

  • You like baseball, don’t you?
  • He left his school bag at home, didn’t he?
  • They need to study more, don’t they?

How to Ask Questions in English Politely

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Asking direct questions might not always sound polite, especially if you’re speaking to a stranger. This is why English speakers often turn Yes/No Questions and Wh- Questions into Indirect Questions (Tag Questions cannot be changed to Indirect Questions). These types of questions usually start with one of the following phrases:

  • Could/Can you tell me…
  • Do you know…
  • Is there any chance…

Indirect Yes/No Questions

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Indirect Yes/No Questions use the word “if” in combination with a positive statement. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Direct Question: Can you save a seat for me?
  • Indirect Question: Is there any chance you could save a seat for me?
  • Direct Question: Does she like to play tennis?
  • Indirect Question: Could you tell me if she likes to play tennis?
  • Direct Question: Are you free tonight?
  • Indirect Question: Could you tell me if you are free tonight?

Even though the Indirect Question is formatted like a statement, we still use a question mark to signify that a question is being asked.

Indirect Wh- Questions

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Indirect Wh- Questions work similarly, as they are phrases used in conjunction with a positive statement. However, Indirect Wh- Questions do not require the word “if.” Additionally, we must switch the order of the subject and verb in the Indirect Question. Here are a few examples:

  • Direct Question: Who is that tall man over there?
  • Indirect Question: Do you know who that tall man over there is?
  • Direct Question: What time is it?
  • Indirect Question: Could you tell me what time it is?
  • Direct Question: When will the guests arrive?
  • Indirect Question: Could you tell me when the guests will arrive?
  • Direct Question: Where is the nearest library?
  • Indirect Question: Do you know where the nearest library is?
  • Direct Question: Why did he say that?
  • Indirect Question: Could you tell me why he said that?
  • Direct Question: How has your team been doing?
  • Indirect Question: Could you tell me how your team has been doing?
  • Direct Question: Which dessert do you want?
  • Indirect Question: Do you know which dessert you want?

We hope you found this guide on English questions helpful! If you’d like to learn more about how to ask questions in English, visit Magoosh Speaking today!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his personal website!
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